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Representing MSU Extension and AgBioResearch to the state Senate

Last week, members of Michigan State University (MSU) Extension and AgBioResearch administration had the opportunity to testify before the Michigan Senate Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee and the Michigan House of Representatives Agriculture Committee. We were lucky to be able to state our case to both committees, highlighting MSU Extension programming and our impacts on the state.

The reason we testify in front of the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee every year after the governor’s budget proposal comes out is to ensure that the state Congress will understand our impact when they consider voting for or against the proposal. This year’s budget proposal recommended that we receive a 2 percent increase in funding – this is great news, and a whole tenth of a percent higher than the rest of higher education. This year, we also testified before the Agriculture Committee, and a big thank you to Mike Kovacic for opening that door for us with that committee.

George Smith, associate director of AgBioResearch, and I testified before the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee at Central Michigan University. I was part of the team that testified for the House Agriculture Committee in Lansing; others included Mike Kovacic, director of stakeholder relations; Doug Buhler, director of AgBioResearch; and John Baker, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine; with an assist from Kelly Millenbah, associate dean of the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Our testimonies to the committees were very well received – they were very interested in hearing about the very great work that you are all doing. In this case, I’m just the messenger, whereas you are all out there doing the work, and thank you all for having such great stories to tell. There will be another opportunity to testify in front of the Michigan House of Representatives Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee next month. We anticipate that it will be just as successful.

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An exciting opportunity

By Patrick I. Cudney

A Michigan native, I grew up in the Traverse City area and attended Benzie County Central schools, graduating from Benzie Central High School. I attended Central Michigan University where I received a bachelor’s degree in community recreation and park administration as well as a Master of Science degree in administration. I have a deep appreciation for the natural beauty of our state and enjoy her abundant natural resources. My wife, Abigail, and I have three children, McKenna (18), John Patrick (9) and Kate (5).

Patrick Cudney will become MSU Extension associate director of operations on Sept. 1, 2014.

Patrick Cudney will become Michigan State University Extension associate director of operations on September 1, 2014. Photo credit: Katie Gervasi, July 2014.

My history with Michigan State University Extension began in 1996 when I became a 4-H youth agent assigned to Kalkaska County. A short time later, I became the county Extension director of Benzie County, making me at age 27, the youngest county Extension director in the state. Three years later, I became regional director of the MSU Extension north region. This gave me the opportunity to help direct the work of more than 150 Extension and county faculty and staff members in a 21-county region of northern lower Michigan. With the MSU Extension restructure in July 2010, I became district coordinator for District 3, serving nine counties in northwest lower Michigan. I’ll continue in this role until I take on the exciting opportunity in serving as associate director of operations in September.

In this new role, I’ll have the opportunity to oversee logistical and business operations for our organization, including supervising the field-based leadership team as well as providing leadership for the organizational development units of MSU Extension including budget planning and management, human resources, professional development, communications and marketing, program reporting and evaluation, diversity, technology and other essential program support.

I’m a member of Epsilon Sigma Phi (ESP), the Extension professional’s fraternity. I’ve been honored to receive the ESP Meritorious Service Award and the ESP Administrative Leadership Award.

I’ve participated in the North Central NELD (National Extension Leadership Development) program in 2001-02 and then served on the NELD planning committee in the 2003-04 program years. I was a member of the inaugural graduating class of the LEAD21 (Leadership for the 21st Century) national land-grant leadership development program in 2005-06.

My education and experience has led me to an interest in community engagement in public-policy decision-making and the science of public administration. I plan to put that education and experience to work with all of you, as we reach out to Michiganians across the state to meet the needs of individuals, families, communities, businesses and industries. It is the content-rich, research-based educational programs that make Extension truly effective and unique, and it is only through meaningful partnerships that we are able to provide our greatest impacts.

I am truly honored to be able to serve the state and MSU Extension in this new role. We are all stewards of this proud organization during the time we serve, and it is all of our responsibility to do our part to ensure it remains an essential and integral part of the fabric of communities across the state.

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About me

About half of the staff know me from my past history with Michigan State University Extension and half do not. For those who do not, I’d like to introduce myself. And maybe some of you who already know me will learn something new.

Both agriculture and MSU Extension are a huge part of my life. I was born on a Michigan Centennial Farm in Tuscola County. A farm is honored with the title of Centennial Farm if it’s continuously owned by one family for at least 100 years, consists of at least 10 acres and is actively producing farm products. Our farm originated in 1882 when my great-grandfather came to the Thumb from Canada. The farm is still in the family. In fact, two generations still live on the farm today. The fields are rented out but the family is still active in making maple syrup. Just as when I was a young person with 4-H projects, my nieces and nephews are active in 4-H, raising animals on this farm. Extension was with me at the beginning, influencing and educating me through 4-H.

I received a bachelor’s in home economics from Central Michigan University in 1974, and I taught home economics for two years. All the while, I had my eye on a career in Extension. My brothers, who both attended MSU, told me I would never get an Extension job unless I graduated from MSU. I proved them wrong when I obtained a half-time position with Extension in 1976. Two years later, the half-time position became full-time in Osceola and Wexford counties. Four years later, I became Osceola county Extension director. At the time, not too many women were county Extension directors. In 1988, I earned a master’s in adult and continuing education at MSU.

We in Extension as in all organizations are no stranger to change. In 1989, Extension was experiencing change, and I became regional supervisor, working out of my house, working under a string of interim directors. In 1993, because of more changes, I needed to reapply for the position of regional director and my office was moved to Grand Rapids.

In 2001, Dean Bill Taylor and President Peter McPherson asked me to be interim Extension director for 6 months. The interim title was dropped and I stayed on as director of Extension till 2005. I went back to Grand Rapids and completed my career as an Extension specialist and consultant. My formal retirement took place in 2008. However, as you know, I’m back again as your interim director.

I’m an active Master Gardener. My husband, Dick, is as well, and loves to staff the statewide MSU Extension Lawn and Garden Hotline. He takes this role very seriously and even I need to wait if he’s busy on the hotline.

My 4-H experience did not end when I grew up. Today, the whole family and I share an interest and love of 4-H. Dick is a 4-H rabbit club leader. My son, Dan, was active in 4-H and the International Farm Youth Exchange, which gave him the opportunity to spend time in Germany.

In August 2009, Dick and I along with Jerry and Merry Malfroid launched the Kent County 4-H Endowment Campaign “Growing 4-H Forever.” In spring 2011, Dick and I hosted an event at our home, which built the fund to the minimum Michigan 4-H Foundation‒required endowment investment of $10,000. Unfortunately, both Jerry and Merry were lost to cancer, but the fund grew as people remembered both of them in memorial gifts. In four short years, these gifts plus a generous contribution from Merry’s estate, along with other annual gifts, have built the endowment to more than $60,000. The Michigan 4-H Foundation will now match $50,000 of that total to create an endowment fund that – after the foundation’s contribution – will have a gift total of $110,000. The endowment fund is a perpetual, permanent asset of the Michigan 4-H Foundation for long-term support of Kent County 4-H. See this Michigan 4-H Foundation Vantage article (on page 2) for details: http://www.mi4hfdtn.org/vantage/2011/2011fallvantage.pdf as well as this follow-up article: http://www.mi4hfdtn.org/vantage/2013/2013fallvantage.pdf (also on page 2).

One of the things I liked best in my role as an Extension educator was the variety of things I was able to work on. I enjoyed working with families living in low-income situations, helping them to develop their potential and find their best talents to solve their own problems. One of the ways we accomplished this was through a program called Mothers of Messy Siblings in which we worked with mothers of young children. These women were often trapped by their situations or even abused. They often were creative and talented, and we helped them find their voices, express their leadership and develop life skills. Some of the best work of my life!

As a county Extension director, I was able to work on programs that involved the community as a whole. For example, one of the programs I was involved in was a community development project in which Extension initiated the collaboration of a variety of local groups to create a mile-long linear park along the Hersey River. This later spun off to several regional trail-head developments.

As regional director, I was involved in regional land-use redevelopment projects from both the rural and the urban perspective. We worked holistically before it was cool!

Extension enabled me to learn and grow and do ‒ all at the same time. I can’t think of a better career fit for me. Extension is an open door to continuous professional development.

As director, I still get charged up about Extension initiatives, the creative opportunities to reach people. I’ll always think of myself as an educator no matter what title I hold. I hope that’s true of everyone in Extension.

As you can tell from my story, my whole family and I not only bleed green but we also bleed Extension. That’s the reason I came back and I’m honored to be back in my role once again.

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